In my youth a Sunday afternoon religious radio broadcast I listened to would start with a musical refrain of “Back to the Bible,” and proceed to reason why that our country needed to return to the Bible as a way of following the call of Jeremiah to “turn from our wicked way” and bring “healing to our land.” Even today, though no longer steeped in a fundamentalist faith, I still see the value of a call for returning to spiritual values as a way of “amending our ways” and thus healing our land. And, I greatly value the Bible today though I am no longer slavishly dependent on a culturally instilled way of interpreting it.
In my country, the United States of America, I think we are witnessing a classic example of a divided soul, a divided psyche, in which a healing is needed. When this happens with an individual, descent into mental illness is a serious risk and I think anyone looking at our wonderful country from outside of our blissful myopia would say, “Hey, those guys are going nuts!” And, I could offer a poignant example of why they could make this point but I don’t want to wallow in Trumpism at this moment.
The word religion stems from “re” and “ligio,” the “ligio” having the same root as ligament, that part of our body that ties our muscles together. Religion refers to our deep-seated need to wrestle with the meaninglessness and absurdity of life and find a coherent world view that allows us to remain connected to the human endeavor. But the key to this effort is to finding a “meaningful” world view that facilitates relationship, i.e. “connection,” and does not promote that contrary impulse of the ego to foster separateness and disconnection, creating insularity. And the clarion call of “Back to the Bible” I found so appealing in my youth revealed a noble human and Divine impulse but at that time in my development it meant only a desire to “make the world just like me and use the name/image of Jesus Christ to accomplish this.” For at that point, I wasn’t mature enough to see beyond myself; and to make it worse I lived in a culture in which cultural myopia was a staple of one’s spiritual diet.
Even with these roots in fundamentalist Christianity, which is evangelicalism on steroids, I still have great appreciation in biblical faith though I find this faith much more meaningful with the broader perspective that life has afforded me. But I am deeply grieved currently to see how a “simple” human being like Steve Bannon could seduce evangelicals into voting for a man of similar darkness to his own. And now I know that some of them are beginning to sense they were duped and have deep regrets, sentiments which are very challenging to the notion that “the Lord was leading them” to vote for Trump, even with his egregious moral, ethical, and spiritual flaws. This brings to them the same challenge that Trump himself has, “Can I admit making a big mistake?” or, in Trump’s case, “Can I admit to making any mistake?”
The mistaken premise that evangelicals live under is that if God is leading you then you could never err as God never gives bad advice. But the mistaken part of that premise was the unquestioned assumption that ego was not involved in interpretations of God’s will and that self-serving interpretations could easily be tempting because of what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh.” But in evangelical culture, the bromide, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” makes any interpretation of motive verboten. It is this assumption of objectivity in which faith gets “de-humanized” that Shakespeare recognized when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is Divine.” If we are unwilling to become human and recognize, and experience, the phenomena of “err-ing,” then the Divine Grace of God is denied any chance of being experienced. We can “know” and “understand” it very well; but “knowledge” is such a ready and convenient way of avoiding experience.
This is related to the “de-humanization” effect of all extremist ideologies, faiths, and political viewpoints as disembodied ideas afford one the opportunity to invest in the idea rather than the experience that the idea points to. These viewpoints are not seen as “view” points which is the only thing possible for a mere “human.” But for those who have usurped deity, and taken as absolute facts what is merely a perspective, suddenly realizing they are wrong (or at least not as objective as they had thought) is frightening and even crushing. This “god-complex” fails to appreciate what the meaning of the Christian story of God’s forgiveness in the Person of Jesus Christ was. This beautiful image was an attempt to convey to mankind that we are accepted “as is” with no caveat. And the crucifixion dimension of the story was God’s way of saying, “Hey, it will be painful. Disillusionment is gut-wrenching. I’m going to give you a graphic picture in terms that you can understand of just how painful it is.” But most people opt to interpret the gospel, or the teachings of any spiritual tradition, on a superficial, literal level and not allow its meaning to seep down into the heart where Grace can become something other than a noble idea. For this to happen, those raised the in Christian culture often need to realize they were “guilted” into their religion as is usually the case with religion. But if the religion can escape the self-serving temptation of literalism and cultural enslavement, it can facilitate a dynamic relationship with its teachings, allowing greater meaning upon reaching maturity. The teachings which children were guilted into accepting for the simple solace of belonging to the herd can then open-up into a rich spiritual heritage, empowering them to live a more authentic life and escape the drudgery and despair of being a simple doctrinal marionette. However, it is much simpler to keep things on the surface, clinging desperately to a literal view and experience of life, knowing in some subtle manner the wisdom of Shakespeare, that it is less painful to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.” For letting go of the bondage of guilt leaves us with the “giddiness of freedom” (i.e., anxiety) and the burden of responsibility.